CEO Disease and Humility

Dragons-At-Work-Author-Stephen-JosephsI applaud Rick Brandon’s concept of CEO disease.

In my interview with Rick, he talks about saying to CEOs, “You know, you’re probably not as bright or smart or funny as you think you are.” Then he went on to joke, “Of course we don’t work at those companies anymore.” His joke is right on the money.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” we never find out what happened to the little boy who innocently exclaimed, “but the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!,” The fairytale is silent on that point, but we have numerous examples of contrarians, truth tellers, and whistleblowers whose careers have stalled or ended because they spoke up.

Here’s a passage from the bold new book, “The Great American Stickup“, by Robert Scheer. He tells us about Brooksley Born, the outspoken woman who headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who warned of the dangers of unregulated derivative trading. That lack of regulation is one of the contributing causes to our 2008 world financial meltdown.

“Born had known all along [about the danger of unregulated derivative trading], but her warnings were consistently ignored, even as she refused to back down. The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Schroeder captured the hostility of Rubin and other Born critics in a November 3, 1998, article entitled “CFTC Chief Refuses to Take Back Seat in Derivatives Debate.” The newspaper reported: “The nation’s top financial regulators wish that Brooksley Born would just shut up. For nearly a year, Ms. Born . . . has been warning about the risk of unregulated over-the-counter derivatives.” Greenspan, Rubin, Summers, and Leavitt opposed Born’s efforts to seek regulation, warning that threats of oversight could destabilize the financial markets and could also lead to lawsuits.

Born’s warnings continued to fall on deaf ears, the Journal reported, until September’s near collapse of Long-Term Capital Management LP, the hedge fund whose “huge exposure to derivatives threatened to rock already-shaky world financial markets. Suddenly, the maverick CFTC chairwoman looked less like a turf-conscious alarmist and more like a modern Cassandra.” Cassandra or not, she was finished. Born’s term was coming to an end, the president [Bill Clinton] had never uttered a word of support, and she did not request a new term. Despite the startling evidence provided by the LTCM collapse, nobody at the top wanted to hear her dire warnings. Clinton himself must be held accountable for this one; by embracing the Republican deregulation mania and ignoring Born’s prescient caution, he made a misstep far more damaging to the country than his dalliance with a White House intern.”

The real cure, not just symptomatic relief, is humility and maturity – qualities which are often in short supply.

Question for reflection:
What can we do in our leadership development trainings, our coaching, and in our own lives that allows us all to listen to each other with humility? What can we do to hold our “best ideas” more lightly?

We’ll see how Dan develops some of that capacity as the Dragons at Work tale moves forward.

Stay tuned.

In the comments section, share an example of “the emperor’s new clothes” syndrome you have experienced. Did sanity or delusion win in the end?

To go to Chapter 13 click here.

To go to the interview with Rick Brandon on Office Politics click here.